Many homes, few sales at sheriff’s auction

PAT FRIDGEN

Four homes sold, 59 stayed in the possession of the bank, and the fate of 69 were postponed until November, or even January 2011. The Sept. 10 Franklin County Sheriff's Sale at the courthouse was not the final step for most of the properties being relinquished by their owners.

The bi-monthly real estate sales take place as a way for mortgage companies to get back as much money as they are willing to settle for, once owners have been identified as being unable to keep up with payments.

Sheriff Dane Anthony read the terms of the sale to the 60 people present, primarily the general public. Several attorneys representing the foreclosing banks were ready to name their price.

Most of the real estate was backed by national financial institutions, but some had local ties. Among the banks foreclosing on properties in Franklin County, those with offices in Greencastle included The First National Bank of Mercersburg, Farmers and Merchants Trust, Orrstown Bank, M & T Bank, Corning Federal Credit Union, Susquehanna Bank and Graystone Tower Bank.

Three Greencastle and 15 Antrim Township homes were on the roster, though only five actually made it to the block Friday afternoon. None of them sold to a private party. Two houses from Waynesboro and two from Mercersburg found buyers.

Not all citizens were looking for a deal. One couple wanted to see what happened to a house they owned two purchasers ago. Others came to see how the operation worked. One man hoped to negotiate directly with the bank. Some people left when the properties they were interested in were taken off the market.

The procedure

Auctioneer Marvin Amsley worked chronologically through the sales postponed from January 2010, then March, May and July, to the most recent listings. He noted which sales were cancelled or continued. One by one, he then specifically named each property for sale by its sale number. Immediately, an attorney stated, "I have an announcement. I am authorized to bid up to (XXX) dollars."

That figure was the amount the bank needed to cover expenses, and interested buyers had to offer at least a little bit more. If no one expressed interest, Amsley said, "Sold for cost." The attorney kept the paperwork and the bank retained the liability to dispose of the property.

The desired bids ranged from $18,522 to settle an estate with a house on Path Valley Road, to $439,700 for a house in Fayetteville.

The sale began at 1 p.m. and Amsley concluded at 1:45.

Some excitement

Three properties sold with little fanfare. One went for just two dollars over the bank's base bid. Two sold for $100 over the lawyer's announcement. One winning bidder proclaimed, "Happy Birthday to me."

The other sale generated a bidding war, with Brian Bitner coming out on top. The 2001 Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate had his eye on a rural Waynesboro home. So did another fellow, who made the initial bid of $161,055, five dollars above cost. Bitner responded and the war was on, soon in $1,000 increments. The competitior finally relented and told Bitner, "You bought it."

Bitner entered the sale with determination, thinking of his opponent, "He's not going to beat me."

He and his wife Melanie spent hours researching the value of the home, but had only driven past it. The final price was considerably less than he was willing to pay.

"It was a good deal," he said after the happy ending. "We want to get out of town."

The couple owns a house in Waynesboro and now plans to rent it out.

The next Sheriff's Sale is Nov. 12.